East Middlebury author Katherine Arden finishes fantasy trilogy
What do you think happens when a Russian/French major graduates from Middlebury College and decides to go pick macadamia nuts on a farm in Maui, Hawaii? Why she gets promoted to making smoothies, of course… then guiding horse tours… then teaching English in France… landing a three-book deal with Del Rey Books, a subsidiary of Random House.
True story. This is exactly what happened to Katherine Arden (a pen name made up of her first and middle names that she prefers to use). Now she’s a national bestselling author who has been inducted into the Library Reads Hall of Fame.
“Sometimes I wake up and I’m like ‘how did this happen?’ said 31-year-old Arden. “Life takes you places, I guess.”
You can say that again.
Arden started her first book, “The Bear and the Nightingale,” while she was in Hawaii in 2011. “Picking macadamia nuts might be very Zen, but it’s not very interesting,” she said. So she started writing a book.
“I set it in Russia because I had spent a lot of time there, and because there was Ukrainian family at the farm next to mine whose daughter was named Vasilisa,” Arden explains on her website. “They called her Vasya. She had green eyes and she and I would chase chickens among the avocado trees. She became my heroine, and so my story started. I didn’t know how to write a book. I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I just kept on haphazardly stringing events together. I had so much fun. Early drafts were terrible.”
The book grew as Arden stumbled through odd jobs — yes, like guiding horse tours, and teaching in a French ski town.
“At the end of all this, I had a draft of a book,” she writes. “But nothing else. Precious little money, even less confidence that anyone would want to read this thing I’d made. I moved back to Maui after my year in France. This time, I was determined. No more messing around, no more making smoothies, no horse tours, and for God’s sake no macadamia nuts. I was a SERIOUS WOMAN with A LOT TO OFFER. I got a real job, as a marketing assistant in a real estate company. I even got a real estate license.
“Then I got a book deal, and well… so much for that.”
Arden moved to Vermont in the fall of 2015 with a completed book, but she didn’t see it published until January of 2017. In those two years she was able to write her second book in the Winternight Trilogy, “The Girl in the Tower,” which was published in December 2017, and work on a book for middle schoolers called “Small Spaces” (which came out this past September). Arden gave most of 2018 to the trilogy’s third book, “The Winter of the Witch,” which is due out in less than two weeks on Jan. 8.
“I’m excited about it,” she said of the third book in the trilogy. “It’s received a lot of starred reviews and has been named an Indie Next pick and a Library Reads pick.”
In fact, this is Arden’s third book to make the Library Reads list; the other two novels in the trilogy were also picked.
“The third time an author receives this, they are inducted into the Library Reads Hall of Fame,” Arden explained. “Librarians have liked me since I was a kid,” said the Texas native, only half-joking. “I grew up in the Austin and Houston public libraries. I love libraries, especially public libraries — because pretty much everything is there… Plus, the smell of libraries is wonderful — it’s the smell of books — dusty, papery and kind of dry.”
But Arden didn’t just receive this award because “librarians like her.” She’s worked hard to get to where she is.
“I write 2,000 words a day, five days a week when I’m drafting,” Arden said. “You can’t say, I need to write 150,000 words. That’s paralyzing. You have to write the sentence, the paragraph, the page… I try and always stay in a present head space.”
Arden lives in East Middlebury with three roommates and her partner Evan Johnson (yes, the same Evan Johnson who used to write for the Addison Independent and sister publications The Brandon Reporter and Mountain Times in Killington). She has made the rounds through the public workspaces in Middlebury, favoriting Stone Leaf Teahouse, Daily Grind and the Middlebury College library. Some days, especially during the winter, she’ll stay home and write by the fireplace. Other days, when it’s warmer, Arden likes to go sit outside somewhere to write.
“I get restless if I stay in the same place, so I move around a lot,” she said.
She gets to really stretch her legs when she goes on tour with her books. Like in January, when she’ll be traveling through California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont with “The Winter of the Witch.” She’ll be at The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Sunday, Jan. 13, at 4 p.m., and at the Platt Memorial Library in Shoreham on Monday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m.
“It’s hard for me to go from writing mode to touring mode,” Arden said. “One is very internal and quiet and the other is very external. I do enjoy meeting people who have enjoyed my books. It’s gratifying and very rewarding.”
With this third book Arden is closing the trilogy.
“The third book ends it,” she said. “It picks up the day after the second book ends and brings it to a finish… It’s dramatic and not everyone lives. A certain character does not make it, and all I can say is that my social media has been full of rage for a couple weeks now.”
But she’s not giving any more away, go buy the book and find out for yourself.
“I did my absolute best,” Arden said reflecting on the series. “I’m proud that everything is finished. It’s gotten a lot of positive reader feedback. I’m as hopeful as one can be.”
Going forward, Arden is working on three more book projects, plus another middle grade book — “Dead Voices,” which is coming out in August 2019.
Learn more about Arden at katherinearden.com and find her books at your local bookstore.
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